Correspondence  |   June 1997
Response to “Iconography in Anesthesiology”  : The Importance of Society Seals in the 1920s and 1930s"
Author Notes
  • Department of Anesthesiology, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo General Hospital, Hamlin House, 2nd floor, 100 High Street, Buffalo, NY 14203.
Article Information
Correspondence   |   June 1997
Response to “Iconography in Anesthesiology”  : The Importance of Society Seals in the 1920s and 1930s"
Anesthesiology 6 1997, Vol.86, 1427. doi:
Anesthesiology 6 1997, Vol.86, 1427. doi:
To the Editor:-I read with exceptional interest the article by Dr. Douglas R. Bacon on Iconography in Anesthesiology, regarding seals of Anesthesiology Societies (Anesthesiology 1996; 85:414–9), and I found it extremely revealing and instructive, both on the concept and on the past of our specialty.
I cannot refrain though from signaling a couple of inadvertencies in the text regarding the interpretation of these symbols, which were originally designed by a couple of dedicated physicians with good knowledge of mythology and excellent mastering of Latin and ancient Greek languages.
For one, the mythical figure represented in the Canadian and the Pacific Coast seals represents Hypnos (Somnus in Latin), the Greek god of sleep, and not Mercury (Hermes in Greek), who was the god of commerce, patron of thieves and pirates, and guide of the souls of the dead to Hades, the realm of the deceased.
Hypnos, son of Nix (the night) and brother of Thanatos (the Death), is aptly shown here, dripping the juice of Papaver Somniferum to alleviate Pain, represented by thistles in the Canadian seal and by the serpent of the Aesculapian Staff in the Pacific Coast seal.
Moreover, to avoid confusion, the name of the god from the Pacific Coast seal, “ipnos,” was inscribed along his back.
Also the mottos of the two Societies written in ancient Greek and in Latin are similar, “It is divine to alleviate pain.”
Hypnos can be appropriately described as the patron of the Art of Anesthesiology because beside being the master of sleep, his residence on the island of Lemnos was a misty cave, the spring of Lethe, the river of oblivion, which was causing amnesia in anyone who crossed it.
The confusion between the two deities probably arose from the wings on the god's head, which were nevertheless an attribute of all gods, who were flying to and from Mount Olympus and not only of Hermes, who wore a winged hat and had wings on his ankles and on the caduceus as a clear indication that he was the messenger of the gods.
The robed lady in the seal of the IARS also can be identified with Athena (Minerva in Latin), the goddess of Wisdom, and by extension of medical knowledge, if one considers the other symbols that accompany her, i.e., the owl and the branch of olive (not ivy, which is a vine), which was her sacred tree.
The light of the lamp in the foreground can be interpreted as as the light of knowledge (and by extension, of research), which is piercing with its rays the darkness of ignorance.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of these symbols.
Stefan Ichim, M.D.
Department of Anesthesiology; State University of New York at Buffalo; Buffalo General Hospital, Hamlin House, 2nd floor
100 High Street; Buffalo, NY 14203
(Accepted for publication March 26, 1997.)